How to buy the best strimmer
By Adele Dyer
Whether you want to keep your lawn neatly edged or cut down a meadow, there is a strimmer that's right for you. Read our guide to find the perfect one for your garden.
Finding the right strimmer will make tidying up the garden a breeze, but there are as many different types of strimmer as there are jobs you can achieve with them and buying the wrong one can lead to frustration.
There are many potential problems you may encounter: line that gets jammed or breaks frequently; lawn edges that get chewed rather than neatly cut; long grass and weeds that remain stubbornly standing as your strimmer flails against them, and a battery that dies within minutes of you starting your jobs.
Why do I need a strimmer?
The key is to identify which jobs your strimmer can help with and then choose one based on this. Gardeners often use a strimmer to:
- edge the lawn
- tidy areas the mower can't reach such as along a fence, under a hedge, or at the very edge of the lawn
- trim a few bits of long grass around heavy or immovable objects such as a rotary drier pole or garden furniture
- cut longer grass such as where bulbs have been naturalised in the lawn
- cut larger areas of grass away from your home where it's easier to use a strimmer than a mower, such as your paths at the allotment
- cut down a meadow at the end of the season
- cut down areas of nettles, brambles or other weeds
If you have one of these jobs, then a strimmer may help you.
What kind of strimmer do I need to buy?
Perhaps the most common reason why many home owners buy a strimmer is they want an easy way to edge the grass. In our tests we have found it's actually easier and quicker to use a pair of edging shears for this job and the results are often neater.
A strimmer is useful for tidying areas where the mower can't reach, such as around the edges of the lawn where it butts up against a fence or steps, or under a hedge. They're also great for neatening straggly grass around a rotary drier or garden furniture. If this is all you need to do, then you can pick a simple strimmer without a wealth of features. There's no need for a rotating head or an extending shaft and you may prefer to pick one that cuts with a plastic blade rather than strimmer line, which can be hard to use.
For longer grass, a strimmer is invaluable. You need more power to cut through the grass as the strimmer has to not only cut through clumps of grass, but also throw the debris away from the cutting area. Thus, a strimmer with line will be more suited to this job than one with a blade.
If you have areas of tough weeds, you will need a powerful strimmer, so look for our heavy-duty strimmer recommendations. For the toughest weeds, such as brambles, or for areas of brash, a brushcutter is a better tool. This replaces the strimmer line head with one that has a triangular metal plate that spins at high speed. Use these with extreme caution, and take advice on how to use them. Alternatively, employ a professional gardener to carry out this work for you.
Strimmers for light garden tasks
If you decide you need to cut your lawn and path edges with a strimmer, look for one with a rotating head. This lets you cut vertically without having to hold the strimmer at an awkward angle. Some strimmers also have a wheel that will take the weight of the strimmer and make it easier to push it forward at an even height as you cut a lawn or path edge.
A few models also let you alter the angle of the head to cut horizontally, which is useful for reaching under garden furniture or hedges.
The strimmer shaft should be telescopic so you can find the perfect working position. When cutting lawn edges with the strimmer head turned vertically, it is good to be able to alter the length of the shaft so you can control the strimmer well and see where you're cutting.
Finally, look for handles that can be moved along the shaft and to different angles so you can hold the strimmer comfortably.
Strimmers for long grass and weeds
If the main job you want to tackle with your strimmer is cutting long grass and weeds, then you will need one that has been designed a little differently. These strimmers are generally much more powerful and the shaft will be around 40cm longer than on strimmers meant for light garden tasks. This means the head is at a safe distance away from your feet so you're less likely to hurt yourself.
Larger models have 'bike' handles, which let you hold the strimmer with your arms held away from your sides, letting you swing the strimmer in a wide arc. This is a comfortable position if you are going to be strimming a large area and will be working for several hours at a time.
Other models have loop handles that give the user a choice of working positions, depending on whether they are sweeping from side to side or pushing the strimmer around obstacles.
In many cases these heavy-duty strimmers are weighty, as they are powered either by a petrol motor or a large battery. So look for one that can attach to a harness or shoulder strap to reduce the strain on your arms.
Now find the perfect strimmer for you by checking out our full strimmer reviews.
Lines, blades and line feed systems
All strimmers cut using either plastic, string-like line or small plastic blades. These are rotated at great speed by the strimmer head, cutting grass and weed stems, and pushing the debris to one side like a scythe.
Strimmer line is designed to break if it hits something too hard to prevent it getting wrapped around the object. It also wears down gradually as it cuts and will break when it becomes too thin. As a result, more line needs to be fed out and this is done by one of three different systems:
- Bump feed - where the strimmer is banged on the ground
- Automatic feed - where more line is fed out when the strimmer starts
- Manual feed - where the user stops the strimmer and pulls out more line
In each case you need to remember of regularly feed out more line, especially when cutting long grass and tough weeds, or when edging a flower bed that's full of stones. If you don't do this, the line often becomes too short and disappears back inside the head. You will then need to remove the cover and feed out more line before you can start work again.
Most strimmers have a double line, meaning two lines come out of the head. This lets you cut faster than a single line, but threading the line on the spool is slightly trickier until you get the hang of it. Thicker line can be used for tougher jobs, such as strimming bramble patches. Line can vary in price from as little as 20p per meter, depending on the quality of the line and the amount you buy at one time.
Most people struggle with line feed problems when using a strimmer and it is the most common complaint against all strimmers. For how to minimise the problems, read our advice on how to avoid line feed problems.
Bladed strimmers avoid all the problems of line-feed systems, as they are easily replaced on the strimmer head. They are made from moulded plastic and often break easily on hard surfaces, such as fences and garden furniture. Bear in mind that blades are not really designed for tough jobs like long grass and weed patches.
They can also be expensive, costing up to £1.40 per blade in some cases and you need to factor this into the overall cost of owning the strimmer. However, some manufacturers offer free blades for the life of the strimmer.
A guard around the back of the strimmer head protects the user's feet from being caught with the line or debris, and also cuts the line to the right length as it is fed out.
How much do I need to spend?
The kind of strimmer you choose, electric, cordless or petrol, will decide how much you need to spend.
The cheapest are electric strimmers that you plug into the mains. They are generally designed for use around the garden, for light-weight tasks such as trimming a few bits of grass around the fence or edging the lawn, and can be bought for as little as £20. However, in our tests we've found that buying a very cheap strimmer is often a false economy. You can get a Best Buy electric strimmer for around £50, so you don't need to spend much more to get a decent model.
Cordless strimmers are more expensive as you pay for the convenience of not having a power cord. The cheapest Best Buy model is around £80 and this is suitable for lighter tasks around the garden. However, for a more powerful strimmer with a longer-lasting battery you can expect to pay over £130.
The most expensive cordless strimmers are designed for cutting down long grass and tough weeds and have a long shaft and a fixed head. These aren't suitable for light garden tasks and often cost over £300, including the battery and charger.
Manufacturers often have one or two standard batteries and chargers that can be used with a wide range of tools. Before you buy check to see if any of your existing tools have a battery and charger that can be used with the tool you are planning to purchase, as this could save you a considerable amount of money.
As some people may already own a compatible battery and charger, these are sometimes not included in the price quoted for your tool, so check the small print before you buy. Alternatively, you may see it as a good chance to buy a second battery for your tools. Batteries are sometimes cheaper when bought with a tool, and it’s often useful to have a second one charged and ready to go when you’re carrying out jobs that will take some time to finish.Petrol strimmers cost more than either cordless or electric models, with the cheapest models starting at around £120. These are designed to cut down long grass and weeds and aren't easy to use for light garden tasks like lawn edging. Here it's worth paying a bit more for a top-scoring brand. Look at our Best Buy strimmers to choose the right one for you.
How to edge the lawn without a strimmer
Any lawn looks better with a crisp, clearly defined edge. The edge should be around 5cm deep as this makes it easier to use the edging shears. To cut the lawn initially, use a half-moon lawn edger that has a flat blade to slice through the grass.
If your lawn has straight edges, lay a plank where you want to create the edge, and cut along the edge using the half-moon lawn edger. For curved edges, decide where to position the edge using a garden hose to see the line, then spray along the line using grass-marking paint. Finally, cut along your new edge with a half-moon lawn edger.
Push any excess soil back from the edge toward the border, again using the half-moon lawn edger. This will ensure your edge will remain defined for some time.
When edging the lawn using edging shears, try to keep the left handle still and pointing down at 90o to the lawn and move the right handle to cut the grass. Remember to sharpen your shears every few weeks to make sure they cut the grass cleanly and with the minimum of effort.